An army marches on its stomach, according to Napoleon’s famous adage – and that was certainly the case during the two years in which Harper Hospital operated as a military facility run by the Union Army. According to Army records from 1865-66, the soldiers who were recuperating at Harper were fed lots of healthy, nourishing foods . . . even if the fare did seem boringly predictable at times. Typically, the daily hospital diet called for “coffee, cold meat and bread” at breakfast, followed by “pork and beans and bread pudding” during the main meal at dinner. In the early evening, at “supper,” the recovering troops were usually treated to “tea with milk” and “bread and butter.”
It does sound a bit bland, and there was no shortage of complaints. But the record also shows that many soldiers were able to supplement these routine foods by purchasing more interesting comestibles at local groceries and sometimes even inside the hospital. The extra fare included such crowd-pleasers as eggs, cranberries, raisins, fish, oysters, turnips, potatoes and apples.